In my last blog post for the Chronicle – Your thoughts on Israel-Palestine? – I asked you to share not what you believe, but why you believe what you believe. Your answers are as diverse as anticipated, ranging from scripture to history to politics to personal experience. For those who answered, Scripture played a heavy roll. But you most certainly did NOT use the same texts or core arguments. Indeed, what I said in the blog is clearly true of us, “There are, if its not obvious, different ways of looking at the past and the future of Israel and Palestine…Well meaning and committed Christians differ radically on what our faith suggests we should do.” Responders based their reasons in at least 5 very different Biblical principles:
- God’s ancient promises to “The Chosen People” are clear, literal, and final.
- God’s future promises regarding the End Times (particularly Armageddon) condemn non-Jewish nations and exalt Israel.
- The Ethics of Jesus life and teachings call into question the use of force and imbalance of power between these two people groups, and demand a response of nonviolent love.
- Justice as equal and right treatment of all peoples. Justice demands fairness, equitable distribution, and the righting of social wrongs (such as power imbalance).
- The Bible calls us to a new people-hood irrespective of national borders, centered on Christ. The point is not to “choose sides” but to seek total reconciliation.
As Jill Carroll asks in her excellent blog this week called My Bible Your Bible, “Are they reading the same Bible?”
She points out contradictions within the Bible, complicating quick easy answers to problems as complex as this. We see what she means (“that the Bible is not a completely harmonious text”) in the answers provided by my great readers. All of which are valid arguments, rooted in the text we claim to share, and tethered to a tradition much deeper than the individuals who posted them.
So what do you do when the Bible contradicts itself? Is Carroll right, we have no choice but to “highlight those [texts] we agree with, beat our enemies over the head with them, and claim that God is exclusively on our side”? Perhaps. But another option, rather than throwing the Bible out altogether as she seems to suggest (Bible is “highly problematic” and of little use in political discussions.), is to have a conversation on the validity of how we read our Bibles. Is one way of reading (what is called “hermeneutics”) better and/or more faithful than another?
This question raises a host of other questions, especially for a guy like me who sees peace as central to my faith, placing me on the fringes of Christendom. In one way or another, each option above has answered these questions from Bible professor Marion Bontrager, Hesston College:
- What is the relationship between the two Christian testaments? Is there both unity and disunity between them, with Jesus and the New Testament superseding the Old Testament? Or are they “flat,” with God having two wills at the same time, one for personal and one for corporate ethics (and therefore no contradictions like Carroll outlines)?
- Is Jesus the norm for Christian social ethics or is his life largely irrelevant because he came for a “higher” purpose?
- How did the early church do their social ethics? Do Jesus and Paul agree? Were the church’s and Paul’s ethics from Jesus; or did they borrow from reason and society given they didn’t see Jesus teaching social ethics at all?
As much as I appreciated Carroll fleshing out Biblical contradictions, I’m not sure I agree that the Bible is “highly problematic” and of little use in political discussions. Let’s take only the first question above and see what clarity comes. Jesus clearly claims in his most well known sermon that he came to “fulfill” the law; then uses the formula “You have heard that it was said…But I say…” six times to reveal what that means. Clearly, Jesus sets himself above the Hebrew Scriptures. Paul seemingly does likewise, “For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ.” Jesus towards Emmaus, and the sermons of Acts teach Jesus is the key to history and scripture.
There’s no space to address further questions, but with just one answer I’ve found a path illuminated through the murky contradictions that are the Word of God. The Bible itself seems to answer Carroll’s conundrum for us by pointing to an interpretive key: Jesus. If this is so, the scales of Christian decision should be weighted more by what Jesus said and did than by ancient or future prophecy, some of which is obscure anyway.
Jesus, who doesn’t rid us of the law, but fulfills God’s passion for justice, right relationship, and peace has recruited me to a life of breaking down the barriers of hate and injustice, which are present on both sides. The use of violence is clearly evident throughout this conflict, but the abuse of power rests largely with Israel. Jesus should never be used (as one of my commenters did) to implicate Jews with Jesus death; nor however should anyone be free to commit atrocity because they are “chosen.” Racism, hatred, violence and genocide should be confronted from any and all directions. Of the options my readers supplied, I find my home in #’s 3,4,5. Why? Because I believe they most authentically (and Biblically) address the contradictions of scripture in a way helpful to the cause at hand: Israel-Palestine. But also because, in choosing to base my ethics on Jesus, I won’t be beating my enemies anytime soon.
Also posted at Marty’s The Peace Pastor blog at: blog.chron.com/thepeacepastor where you can follow the discussion.